Thursday, September 28, 2006

Signs, signs

We're back! I've fallen headlong back into work with a huge writing/editing day, so a sampling of signs will have to suffice for now:

To follow up on the last post, Nebraska Husker mania: (I wonder if anyone is gleeful about the other political implications of these banners?)

Football is taken similarly seriously in rural Iowa. Here, a whole small town got into the creative action with homecoming signs all around town (the home team was playing the Bison, apparently). Others included: "Stamp out the Bison" (on Post Office window) and "Make Change out of the Bison!" (on the bank window)- Heh. But this was our favorite, on a convenience store window, of course.

Speaking of convenience stores/gas stations, does this name strike anyone else as vaguely inappropriate? Ahem.

One rest area in Iowa surprised us by having artwork depicting modern farming practices (biotech mural in the restroom), including a lament about erosion. Reading Wendell Berry aloud in the car made the content more poignant:

And don't worry, WF got away from the giant, hungry rooster. Whew!

A good trip overall, with lots of fine, wholesome rural adventure. It's also good to be back; more later!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Go Big R...

In my musings about big red barns, I forgot that we were also going to encounter something else big and red in Nebraska: Husker Mania! Yikes.

It is a rather bewildering thing to behold: THOUSANDS of Nebraskan adults and kids, decked out in red, making their way hours early to the stadium for the big Husker's game. It creates one of the largest "cities" in Nebraska while the game is in progress, and makes it nearly impossible to go downtown to a restaurant, etc (where signs on lampposts include a big red N and the words "The Power of Red"). Husker mania is truly like a religion here (but not knocking the Big G off his peak, of course). I learned that early while living In a small town near Lincoln, just by reading the sign in the grocery store that read: Jesus is Lord over Nebraska (written in red letters, of course). The Huskers rank right up there, which is why the store was also broadcasting the came over their soundsystem for the few shoppers who didn't stay home to watch the big game.

It was quite a little, ah, sociology observation experience for a young, single woman from liberal MN. I didn't really fit in, and it's kind of bizarre to be back visiting this place now, from my more settled "real" life. Thank goodness it ended up to be in MN, not in the land of the Husker! But just to not jinx the rest of our trip out of Nebraska: Go Big Red!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Barn Again!

I do sometimes have barn-envy; I wish our property still had one (the old buildings were burned down years ago; apparently were falling down). Such is the fate of barns all over the country; people just don’t use them anymore. Big old red barns were never as common up here as down south, and got abandoned more often and earlier (due to poor farming conditions, heh).

It saddens me that in areas with great farmland and resources (like Iowa), “traditional” chemical, monoculture agriculture still reigns. And don’t get WF started about the energy implications of that! Then, in areas like Northern MN or New England (hardscrabble but beautiful land) more liberal, progressive ideas about organics and CSA’s seem to be taking hold and clinging tenaciously to the rock. I know there’s hope and beginnings of changes down in those areas, too: it’s just harder to find them while lost in the seas of corn and soybeans- eek!

Recently WF obliged me in my desire to visit an old barn (WAY down south) that played a role in my family’s history, even though none of us ever lived on this farmstead. I appreciated the opportunity to see it up close again, to explore its deteriorating corners. We can stand back and observe the decay with detachment, but in reality, my family and the forces of tradition agriculture were responsible.

My grandfather (on my dad’s side) was a very “modern” farmer in the 1960’s, buying farms to use for their cropland with few plans for subsistence-type living. I don’t fault him for that in any way; it’s a completely common practice, one encouraged by the market forces. It just means that the buildings on this farm were hardly used for 40 years, and now will not likely survive much longer. A new “modern” farmer has purchased the land, and I’m not sure of his plans.

I wasn’t a farm kid, but wanted to honor this barn as part of my “farm” heritage. I remember playing in the hayloft, exploring the empty stalls, carefully avoiding falling onto a pitchfork. In another now-gone barn like this one, I stepped on a rusty nail and bravely climbed a silo (all the way to the top!) I entertained notions of being a farmer even as a kid- it just appealed to me on some level, but I was never really around a “real” working farm.

Now I’m a “responsible” adult, all practical and modern in my full-time, in-town job choice. While WF and I are trying to squeeze in chicken-raising and gardening and someday larger scale farming into the too-small spaces of our “free” time, I need to remember this barn and the role “modernity” has played in getting us to the current state of the world, with poison spinach and debt-ridden farmers who can’t afford (or have reason) to keep up their great old barns. Maybe we can make some less practical, but more “real” choices one of these days.

I’m off to go read Wendell Berry aloud in the car while driving through Iowa! Peace!

(note: post should have pictures: blogger won't let me right now- later?)

Barn Voyage!

Recipe for an exotic summer/fall excursion (in my life these days, anyway):

1. Get in car
2. Drive south and west in varying Midwest-sized distances
3. Visit family, attend celebration or service
4. Observe barns and huge cornfields
5. Drive back

I live in the beautiful boreal north, the land of canoes and rocky hiking trails. I used to yearn for this birch and pine forest when living further south in more agricultural areas, and travel up here every chance I got. Now that I live up here, I’ve spent lots of my free time this summer driving back down to these lands of huge fields and big red barns.

Is it true that we all return to our roots, at least somehow? I really haven’t minded these trips (inspired by differing degrees of family obligation), though. I enjoy seeing a sturdy old barn or a well-designed farm yard (do places ever strike you as perfect, seen from the road?). I treasure family connections, even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye politically. I’m a history buff and have a perhaps surprising interest in genealogy (isn’t that the realm of older people?). But gosh-barn-it, why can’t more of the relatives live in someplace new like Alaska or Utah or even Missouri, for field-sakes??

Sigh….I love to travel, and the opportunity is fairly rare these days. We’ve recently been visiting places I once knew; now I’m yearning to either enjoy the place I know NOW, or explore a completely new place. Now we’re planning another trip, once again way back down to a place I used to live near. But the people behind the visit are well worth the drive, so I’m back to exploring the land of barns…Wish us barn-voyage!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The Tomato Harvest, in various stages of ripeness. The cats are fairly mystified about this new addition to their sunning window, but the humans hope for a few more (indoor) garden-ripe tomatoes.

We had the first killing frost on Saturday night, the day of a beautiful sunny Harvestfest in town. We covered diligently, but some leaves still got it. Then Sunday night FELT warmer in the evening, so we got a bit lax, and that night the temps plunged even further. Tomatoes did survive, but we took that as our clue to harvest, fast. Our garden suffered a bit this year from over-scheduled tenders: somehow it got away from us. But there were still WF-sized "Peace Vine" plants, with beautiful little 6 and 8 packs of grape-sized tomatoes, ripening in sequence.

Now, what to do with the abundance? Simple snacking seems somehow overly indulgent or not quite "long range thinking" enough, but it's what we're doing right now! Bittersweet, to enjoy such a summer taste with a Fall chill in the air...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

One Local Lunch

We’re back, Bill is feeling better, thanks, chickens are fine, and I have family history and old farm questions rattling around in my head, waiting for a moment to sit down and process. Soon! But right now I have only the brain-space for this late post.

Liz at Pocket Farm has been running the One Local Summer initiative, a great idea that I haven’t really embraced on this blog. She recently wondered why some people didn’t join. I responded with what I hope was not a too-testy comment, listing my excuses: working in town too much, commuting, busy with other stuff, not a fancy cook, no time to really plan out my meals and document them, still try to shop and eat local, grow lots of our own food, etc.

A little while later, I realized that I was eating a nearly all-local lunch, left over from the last night’s dinner, crafted in our standard weekday style: cook some stuff and throw it together, add flavorings and go.

Grown at home: Tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, beets, beet greens (0 miles, before trip to work)

Added for flavor: Cheese, flax seed and nutritional yeast, (all bulk, from local co-op, 12 miles- true, not grown locally, but…)

Served: In handy work travel-ware (sometimes in a stainless container, much better)
Eaten: At desk, in presence of too many files and other desk detritus.

Ahem. I DO think eating local is extremely important, and it’s becoming more second nature for me as time goes along. I’m still not as pure as WF (who refuses to ever eat New Zealand apples), but I’m getting better. This year we celebrated our first tomato purchases of the year: from a local farmer, who grows them in a greenhouse and gets ripe ones earlier than we can at home. It did feel good to ENJOY those tomatoes, to feel a sense of seasonal celebration, a little produce thrill when new things come onto our plates at the right time of year.

I’m happy to see more people embracing this idea, hearing stories on NPR (which SHOULD have quoted Liz), seeing more interest in local signage at the co-op, etc. Keep it up, those of you with the energy and skill for posting your dinners: I’ll enjoy my little local lunch “jumble” quietly over here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

This post brought to you by...

Elderly Bill-cat is a very sweet, wise old dude. He's not a lap cat, but he can really enjoy a good chin or belly rub. He doesn't "cuddle" per se, but occasionally needs a bit of ah, closeness. I'm usually happy to oblige.

He's been a bit under the weather this week, refusing his regular food, but eating some treats, special food, etc. I've been hovering, monitoring, trying to get a sense from him how much help he wants or needs. This "geriatric" cat care has been a good learning experience: I feel sometimes we are in a dance, me trying to read his subtle clues to how he's feeling and what might help. We don't want to do anything "heroic" or over the top to "save" him, but while he still seems to be enjoying himself, he deserves some good care.

I think he's improving, so we're braving a trip away this weekend for a father's side family reunion down south. We found a new petsitter who is game to take care of the chicken crew as well as the cats.

I am called to visit some family members I haven't seen in a long time, and take a last visit to a farmstead that's being sold. Sometimes I feel like visiting places key to one's own remembered history is nearly as fulfilling and valuable as visiting people. I've always had an avid fascination with history, family or otherwise. What can we learn by taking those glimpses into another time? More pictures and musings to come!